By MATTHEW IGNAL
The recent election of Barack Obama was certainly an historic moment for the United States, but for those who carry an affinity for the concept of freedom, its symbolism is rather disheartening. While the majority of libertarians (even at more traditionally mainstream outlets such as Reason Magazine) rightly preferred Obama to that neocon sycophant, John McCain, this election witnessed the triumph of a man who campaigned on the promise of a benevolent activist government. From the libertarian perspective, there are scant words in the English language more frightening to emanate from a politician’s mouth.
Yes, Obama’s political character of spirited statism poses some major problems for the cause of liberty. The state is, by definition, a coercive entity that operates through the use of force; its supposed benevolence is undermined by its history of cruelty and disruption of the natural social order. To place one’s trust in the state is to the ignore the context by which it maintains and asserts its full authority. Furthermore, the use of compulsion is in clear violation of one of the foundational principles of natural-rights libertarianism, the non-aggression axiom. Murray Rothbard, the standard-bearer of 20th century market anarchism, went as far as to cast the it as the sine qua non of libertarian theory. To summarize the spirit of it briefly, the non-aggression principle dictates that initiatory force enacted against another is fundamentally wrong, and should be opposed by any libertarian worth his salt.
While any action by the U.S. government rests on the use of coercive authority drawn from the collection of taxes (or similar means), it stands to reason that there are different degrees of force, with the act of warfare being one of the most grotesque expressions of the state’s violent nature. Obama’s willingness to use this initiatory force abroad to “secure our freedoms” violates any interpretation of non-aggression principle. His foreign policy is that of the vulgar authoritarian, marked by interventionism and maintenance of American hegemony abroad. Aside from his calls for increasing military presence in Afghanistan, Obama has made veiled threats toward Pakistan and Russia, with explicit ones directed at Iran (“Afghanistan Urgent”; Holland, “Tough Talk”; Dreyfuss, “Rise and Mcfaul”; Newbart “Iran Threatens”). Exacerbating this potential for the immiseration of millions under America’s iron fist, youth support is more feverish for the incoming president than any time since the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The frightening implications that follow from this are numerous: chief among them is that many Americans will be far more receptive to proposals toward the doctrine of war under an Obama administration, acting as willing sheep for the American empire.
Of course, the use of coercive initiatory force is a far cry from the principles upon which liberalism stands, but this fact doesn’t deter Obama, who manages to get everything backwards in the following:
The Founders recognized that there were seeds of anarchy in the idea of individual freedom, an intoxicating danger in the idea of equality, for if everyone is truly free, without the constraints of birth or rank or an inherited social order – if my notion of faith is no better or worse than yours, and my notions of truth and goodness and beauty are as true and good and beautiful as yours – then how can we ever hope to form a society that coheres? (86-87)
There certainly is anarchy in the notion of individual freedom, since liberty taken to its logical conclusion can only result in the rejection of all rulers, but the wording in the above passage clearly intends to display lawlessness as the inevitable result of “too much” freedom. Why is this so? Without the power structure that enables the consistent exploitation of others, alternative orders would necessarily and spontaneously develop, springing from the innate nature of mankind. Yet if this nature is savage and inclined toward brutality as described by Thomas Hobbes, why would it be any more logical to support a system that feeds into it by further empowering the strong through political means? Fortunately, I do not believe that the only thing that prevents you from killing your neighbor is the threat of retaliatory force, but the anarchists have always maintained society has the right to protect the greater community, if necessary.
Regardless, Obama’s negative view of humanity’s unfettered potential is further evidenced by his abject rejection of social equality, or the idea that people should be treated without deference to societal status. In fact, Obama’s writing (see above) and recent repudiation of his supposed left-wing sympathies indicate that his so-called progressivism is merely concealed communitarianism (1). His acceptance or indifference toward a concrete, hierarchical social order combined with the stated willingness to use force stands in dark contrast to Lockean-based liberalism or any of its derivatives.
His economic proposals are similarly opposed to the libertarian preference for decentralization. While it is true that his short-term plans were superior to those of McCain in that it certainly isn’t any less “laissez-faire” to remedy the accumulated ills of massive state intervention via progressive taxation than to maintain the status quo, Obama continues to fill his staff with Wall Street insiders in a desperate attempt to maintain corporate capitalism through increased state power at the expense of the American citizenry (Pryzbyla “Obama Embrace”). As such, his repeated appeals to the wisdom of the free market (undoubtedly to court the distinct American individualist character) are exposed as nothing more than a sham. Rather, his policy of maintaining Keynesian principles fails to recognize that the system was very nearly designed to collapse at some indeterminable point in the future (hint: the solution to over-accumulation is not more accumulation) due to its neglect to take into account long-term effects. After all, according to the famed economist John Maynard Keynes himself, “In the long-run we’re all dead.” Well, we’re fast approaching the long run, and the living seem to prove an exception to Keynes’ rule.
Whether its his apparent willingness to use force so as to violate the non-aggression principle, his acceptance of the justice of an inherited social inequality, or his clinging to eroding state-supported economic theories, there exists is a clear separation between the notion of liberty and the plans of Barack Obama. While we may celebrate this election as a representation of America overcoming the obstacle of lingering bigotry, there is nothing about an Obama administration to get libertarians optimistic for the scaled reduction of the hypertrophic state. That change will have to arise from external sources acting in opposition to the government’s desires.
Dreyfuss, Robert. “The Rise and McFaul of Obama’s Russia Policy.” The Nation. 2 Jul. 2008 23 Nov. 2008 <http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/334120>.
Holland, Steve. “Tough Talk on Pakistan from Obama,” Reuters. 1 Aug. 2008 23 Nov. 2008 <http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN0132206420070801>.
Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope. Crown, 2006.
“Obama Calls Situation in Afghanistan Urgent.” CNN. 21 Jul. 2008 23 Nov. 2008 <http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/20/obama.afghanistan/>.
Newbart, Dave. “Obama: Iran Threatens All of Us.” Chicago Sun-Times. 3 Mar. 2007 23 Nov. 2008 <http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/281249,CST-NWS-OBAMA03.article>.
Pryzbyla, Heidi. “Obama Embrace of Wall Street Insiders Points to Politic Reform.” Yahoo News. 19 Nov. 2008 23 Nov. 2008 <http://news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20081119/ pl_bloomberg/awsz2kuxdtiu>.
“Who’s Getting your Vote?” Reason Online. 29 Oct. 2008. 19 Nov. 2008 <http://www.reason.com/news/show/129640.html>.
(1) While nearly every presidential candidate over the last century has supposedly “moved to the center” in order appeal to the undecided moderates, the majority of Obama’s shift has been in the general class of executive power. This is an area where authority figures are unlikely to retract their campaign themes.
Matthew Ignal (’11) is a History major at University of Connecticut.
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